How NOT to Multi-Task

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

How NOT to Multi-Task

I have to laugh; this is supposed to be a weekly blog. And honest, I have wonderful intentions. But I sat down this afternoon, between clients in my office, and made a "to do" list, an activity that often helps me focus my attention and feel a bit more in control of my life. My list had 17 items on it, almost all of which need to be completed in the next three weeks. I almost cried.

This is, as you may have noticed, the Christmas season. It's beautiful: lights are lit, trees glow in windows, and festive decorations are displayed for passers-by to enjoy. But it's a busy time, too. There is shopping to do, and mailing, and meals and celebrations to plan, while work and children still need tending to. Families are meant to look like a Norman Rockwell painting: peaceful, smiling, happy, and connected. But the people who have been sitting on my couch lately look a lot like I feel. They're overwhelmed, stressed out, anxious, and irritable;their families are complicated and life isn't simple. What is going on?

You may have heard about the recent study that shows the results of what we call "multi-tasking." This is, by the way, a polite word for the craziness that happens in most American families, the expectation that we can and should do several things well all at once. The study revealed that men multi-task almost exclusively about work, and they feel satisfied with the results of their efforts. But women are multi-multi-tasking: they leave the office and find themselves confronted by what many call the "arsenic hour": the high-wire juggling act of connecting with children, getting dinner on the table, finishing up important tasks, and getting everyone organized for the next day. Women reported that they are most definitely not satisfied with the results of multi-tasking. They feel frazzled, annoyed, anxious, and exhausted. Whatever happened to peace on earth, anyway?

I am not implying that dads don't do their fair share. But I find myself looking at my own "to do" list and the stories of the families who wander into my office, and I wonder what our priorities are. So here are a few suggestions for the multi-tasking generation:

* Slow down. Really: stop and take a breath. Hug your kids. Simplify your life a bit. During these busy days, settle for grilled cheese sandwiches and canned soup for dinner; focus on hugs instead. 

* Examine your priorities. Which pieces of your holiday traditions really matter, and which are you doing out of habit? Invite your children to help you: yes, the gift-wrapping they do may be a bit lopsided, but I bet Grandma will value it even more than your beautiful packages, and you'll have wonderful times chatting and singing carols while you share the tape and scissors.

* Connect with your family first and then worry about what needs to be done. Children don't do well with multi-tasking: they need your undivided attention and to connect with you on a regular basis. If you can listen for a few moments to your son's stories about recess and laugh with your daughter about her friend's funny outfit, and hug your partner, you may discover that those tasks and chores happen much more smoothly. 

* Delegate. Everyone else may not do things exactly as you would, but you'll have time to breathe and relax and everyone else will get to feel capable, engaged, and valued. 

* Celebrate. Really celebrate. Regardless of where life has taken you this holiday season, you are alive and able to experience the beauty of life. I wish you, wherever you are, a beautiful, connected, and peaceful Christmas, Hannukah, and holiday season.

| Posted by cheryl | Thursday, December 8, 2011|


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